I really want to write a rant to all the devastations of the day: the Kavanaugh vote in the Senate, the FBI’s incomplete investigation, the senator from Maine’s weak speech justifying her vote against women, the Senate’s dismissal and nullification of Dr. Ford’s courage.
But I have to write for the Debs, it’s that time of the week where the Debs must cull their thoughts for the topic at hand. This week: writing first drafts. As a former journalist, I think of the Alan Barth quote: “News is the first rough draft of history.” I wonder twenty years from now if the America we live in today will even exist. I believe, as a result of the 2016 elections, that our nation has been diminished and our institutions and core beliefs have been shaken. So, I am very distracted by the news on TV, by the newspaper articles. But I believe in seeing beauty and I believe in making art. I believe in looking ahead. The only way I can think of to do that is to do the task at hand.
I must write how I feel about first drafts. It’s that kind of day, so I will number my thoughts:
1a. You have to write.
b. Preferably, you have to write every day.
c. Preferably, you should write at the same time each day – I find the best time is first thing in the morning. #5amwritersclub
d. READ. Anything. Everything. Newspapers, Magazines, Books, Recipes, Fortune Cookies.
2. You can’t edit something that doesn’t exist, as in “I’d rewrite the first page except that I don’t have one.”
2.5 see 1d.
3. The best writing is re-writing: Once you get your ideas on the page, even if it’s the roughest draft, you have some raw material with which to fashion your art.
3.5 see 1d.
4. If you don’t write then you already have the answer, which is NO – as in “I have this great idea but I refuse to write it down so NO ONE will ever read it.”
4.5 see 1d.
5. I’m not that organized. I try to follow 1a and 1b but 1c is out of the question.
5.5 see 1d.
6. When I first began attending workshop and writing classes, I heard the same advice over and again and I found this advice to be very useful. (It works!): Get a cheap pen and a cheap spiral notebook. Write for 15 minutes every day, no matter what, even if it’s a rant about writer’s block, and then put your notebook away. Generally it takes about a month to fill the white pages of the notebook. (The first few days are hard, but once it becomes a habit, you’ll find yourself writing your ideas and stories, and spending more than 15 minutes each day doing so.)
6.5 see 1d.
7. After you’re finished writing and filling up all the pages of the notebook, take a break. One week. I learned this from A Writer’s Time. Kenneth Atchity is big on vacations. Do something else.
7.5 see 1d.
8. When the week has passed, take a highlighter pen and go through your notebook and re-read your pages (preferably aloud). Highlight the words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs you like.
8.5 see 1d.
9. Rinse and repeat until you have three or four of these annotated notebooks. (Drink coffee, it helps.)
9.5 see 1d.
10. Then use those highlighted passages to fashion stories and poems and essays.
10.5 see 1d.
Many thanks to Maria Popova and Brain Pickings: here is a list of Jeanette Winterson’s writing tips:
Books that have proved useful, in terms or tips and tricks, for writing: Writing Down the Bones, A Poet’s Companion, Steering the Craft, Create Dangerously.
Poetry books that have sustained me, lately: Bluets, Road Atlas, Bright Felon, Registers of Illuminated Villages, Play Dead, Blessing the Boats.
Classic book recommendation: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
2 Replies to “Attacus Atlas & Other Inventions: Ode to the First Draft”
I am feeling that pull between the desperate need to rant and the omnipresent need to keep working.
But, well, that list is exactly how we do it, how we keep going.
This is all so apt…sitting where we are in history, it feels like we are in the midst of the roughest of rough drafts…
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